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LCQ5: Complaints about sexual harassment received by the UGC-funded institutions

     Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau and a reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (June 6):


     The Coroner's Court has recently inquired into a case which involves an incident of a university staff member suspected of being sexually harassed by a high-ranking officer of the university.  In May this year, the media again revealed that a staff member of that university had complained against her being sexually harassed by a high-ranking officer and expressed dissatisfaction about the university's approach in handling the incident.  In connection with the system and approach adopted by University Grants Committee-funded institutions (institutions) in handling the problem of sexual harassment, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council whether they know:

(a) the respective numbers of enquiries and complaints relating to sexual harassment received by each institution in the past three years, together with the number of substantiated cases and the penalties imposed on the persons under complaint in substantiated cases; whether the various institutions had documented those cases known to them although the victims had not made any formal written complaint; if they had, the numbers of cases recorded by the various institutions;

(b) whether the various institutions have set up mechanisms to facilitate their assessment of the seriousness of incidents of alleged sexual harassment and to enable them to proactively launch investigation, if necessary, into such cases even in the absence of formal complaints from the victims or eye-witnesses; and

(c) the measures adopted by the various institutions to ensure effective implementation of their policies on prevention and handling of sexual harassment; the number and percentage of the heads and deputy heads of the institutions who have received training in handling sexual harassment, as well as the number of training hours; whether the management staff of the institutions who improperly handle or ignore incidents of alleged sexual harassment for the sake of reputation of the institutions or other considerations, thus making the victims refrain from lodging formal complaints, are subject to disciplinary actions of their institutions; which institutions allow the complainants to arrange the company of lawyers in attending internal hearings; and whether the committee or secretariat which handles sexual harassment complaints improperly or ignore such incidents is subject to disciplinary actions of its institution?



(a) From January 2009 to May 2012, a total of 30 complaints about sexual harassment were received by the eight University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded institutions, of which 11 were found substantiated upon investigation, seven were resolved through conciliation with the consent of the complainants, four were dismissed, six were withdrawn on the complainants' initiative, and the remaining two are still under investigation.  As for enquiries relating to sexual harassment, a total of 68 enquiries were received during the same period by four institutions.  This figure includes those enquiries which have not led to formal complaints.  The other four institutions have indicated that official statistics on enquiries relating to sexual harassment are not available since such enquiries can be made through different means.  A breakdown of the figures by institution is set out at Annex.

     For substantiated complaints, penalties may include written warning or reprimand, interdiction and termination of employment if the respondent is a staff member.  If the respondent is a student, suspension or expulsion from the institution may be ordered in serious cases.  If a criminal offence is suspected, the case will be referred to the police for further investigation, and the institution concerned will render full support during the investigation.

(b) The eight UGC-funded institutions are all independent and autonomous statutory bodies.  According to the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (Cap. 480), these institutions, same as other organisations and bodies in Hong Kong, have a statutory obligation to take reasonable and practical steps to prevent sexual harassment on campus, including developing a policy in writing in this respect, setting up a mechanism to handle complaints about sexual harassment, etc.

     All eight institutions have informed us that they have put in place policies for the prevention and handling of sexual harassment cases, as well as complaint mechanisms and procedures, to ensure that every case will be dealt with in a serious and impartial manner.  As for potential sexual harassment cases that are not brought about by formal written complaints but come to the knowledge of the institutions nevertheless, the institutions will take appropriate follow-up actions with due regard to the wishes of the alleged victims, including initiating the complaint and investigation procedures and providing support and assistance to them.

(c) The management members of the institutions, including the heads and deputy heads, should handle sexual harassment complaints carefully in deference to the established policies of the institutions and the principles of fairness and impartiality.  The institutions regularly arrange for their heads, deans, management, staff and even students to attend training courses, seminars and talks on how to prevent and handle sexual harassment, and invite the training officers of the Equal Opportunities Commission to deliver talks on campus.  However, the institutions have indicated that they do not have any specific data on such training received by their heads and deputy heads.

     The institutions also widely promote their policies and measures for the prevention of sexual harassment through different channels by regularly launching publicity and education activities on their campuses.

     With their policies for the prevention of sexual harassment and mechanisms for handling sexual harassment complaints in place, the institutions do not allow their management staff to circumvent such policies and mechanisms or prevent any victims from exercising their rights to complain, or else they may be deemed to have abused office and breached the code of practice for staff, and hence liable for disciplinary actions.  Similarly, the committee or secretariat responsible for handling sexual harassment complaints should deal with every case properly in accordance with the established procedures, otherwise they may be considered to have neglected their duties and subject to disciplinary actions too.

     Under the complaint procedures of all eight UGC-funded institutions, both parties to a complaint case are allowed to be accompanied by members of the university (academic staff or students) at every hearing for advice and support.  Three institutions allow both parties to be legally represented at the hearings while four do not.  For the remaining one, there is no such provision in its complaint procedures, and any request for legal representation will be considered by the committee concerned.

     Besides, it should be noted that apart from complaining to the institutions, alleged victims of sexual harassment may also lodge a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission or bring civil proceedings in court.  The internal complaint mechanisms of the institutions will in no way affect the alleged victims' rights to complain or litigate outside the institutions.  For cases involving criminal offences, they will be referred to the police by the institutions concerned for further investigation.

Ends/Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Issued at HKT 15:33


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